When I met Arula again, it was he who tapped me on the shoulder, having caught me in a daze.
“My fair lady,” he said, in a lighthearted manner that also expressed concern as a most inconspicuous hint—just enough for me to notice, but not nearly enough to be noticeable on its own. In other words, it was something I could easily dismiss without turning the atmosphere awkward. “Did he say something odd to you?”
“He did,” I admitted, wasting no time to lift my head to see his smile. I relayed to him the entire conversation that took place between Remington and myself.
Arula’s eyebrows furrowed. He did not immediately answer.
“What did you find?” I asked.
“Calder was talking with his adviser,” Arula said, “They were quite merry, almost like father and son—though of course the adviser is a small, frail man, and Calder twice his size in every way. Somewhere during their conversation, Calder gave a hearty laugh. I didn’t get close enough to hear every word, but they seemed quite confident.”
“How tall is Calder?”
“Seven or even eight feet, perhaps.” He looked upon me for a full minute longer before asking, “What do you suggest, Larissa?”
“We will know by the morning what my lord means to do,” I answered, leading the way out of the trees.
Relay to Arula everything you learned here and ask him to avoid getting killed. Request that he creates an illusion of himself in his tent tomorrow night but stays safe elsewhere, and to stay unseen for the rest of this journey. I will assure that word gets out that he was killed in a crossfire as suggested by Calder’s adviser. As for you…stay close to him and safe. Make sure to stop him from rushing to the rescue of an unimportant bowman in danger.
I mulled over those words through the night in my tent, which was right next to Arula’s. I could imagine him sitting up, a few feet away, doing the same; but he knew this was what I meant when I told him we would know by the morning, so I knew he would not try to speak to me that night.
There were many contradictory messages in that one command, but before I even began to point out what they were, I had to first figure out the nature of what he was suggesting.
Before setting out, I had redesigned my attire so that the wide sleeves were made into a separate dimension which served as bottomless pockets of sorts. Now, out of my sleeves I pulled some writing utensils, and wrote down, word for word, what I had memorized of Remington’s command, under the dim candle light.
“Tonight,” I said to Arula the next day in hushed whispers in his tent, “Do as I say, and ask not a single question until the sun rises on us again—although I suspect you will need to ask nothing by the time.”
Arula nodded. “What will it be?”
I told him the plan. As I spoke, he nodded time and again to show that I had his attention. When my explanations were all finished, I sneaked a peck on his cheek, adding the line, “I’ll be waiting.”
When the evening came, I cast an illusion on myself, making myself look exactly like Arula. Then, I made an announcement to the bowmen: should emergencies arise that night, I would be launching attacks from my tent; they were to simply do their job as usual.
With that message conveyed, I entered Arula’s tent and retrieved from my sleeve an amulet that would grant me invincibility as long as I remained still. I sat on the ground, and just before I closed my eyes to cast another illusion, I put the amulet on.
Far away from the campsite, on a slope where one could barely see the armies down below, an illusion of myself appeared, standing before a tree and looking down at the site. Beside my illusion stood one of Arula, which was also my creation. The problematic part of casting illusions was not that it was a difficult art in its own right, but that, to create a realistic illusion, the illusion must incorporate every detail down to the last loose string at the hem of one’s skirt. Further, to uphold one such illusion, one would need to be perfectly focused on the illusion, thus neglecting everything else. The attention illusions demanded far exceeded that of possessing another’s soul.
There were three people in this world that I could replicate completely: myself, Arula, and Remington.
Remington had asked Arula to perform an act requiring this much attention while situated far from the battlefield—the battlefield where his bowmen would certainly keep him safe. And it was in his own tent that he had asked Arula to cast the illusion, which served very little purpose. With just a trick of lighting and closed curtains, Arula would not have to have an illusion in the tent for his bowmen to believe that he was in it.
This alone would not have proven Remington false, but what Remington did not know was that, during the time he was occupied with me, Arula had visited Calder. Even if Calder and Arula had never before met in person, Arula would have learned everything he needed to know as soon as he laid eyes on the man. If anyone could read a person accurately, it was Arula. If he said Calder and his adviser were like “father and son”, they were like father and son, with no scheming between them. Remington, on the other hand, was a very careful man who relied on his wits alone, and not prior knowledge. In my previous life, I had learned that he trusted no one but Ellerie—and this time around, even Ellerie betrayed that trust. Hence, he had no reason to believe the relationship between Calder and his adviser could be genuine.
Thus, his plan, most likely, would be to use me to eliminate both Arula and Calder, beginning with the closer one.
Make sure to stop him from rushing to the rescue of an unimportant bowman in danger was merely a trick to get the both of us far away from the campsite, where Arula would not be able to see his soldiers.
That was what brought my illusion here, on the hill.
Soon, the shooting began. Amidst the fiery arrows, my attention stayed on the hill, ready to teleport myself to it and turn illusion into reality should it be necessary. About fifteen uneventful minutes passed before a shadow appeared on the hill. It was, of course, the cloaked silhouette of Remington. My illusion stood conscious while Arula had his eyes closed, as though focused on the craft of an illusion elsewhere.
“What of the knights?” I asked through my illusion.
“I shall return to them promptly. I left a messenger near the frontlines,” Remington replied, casting a glance at Arula’s illusion. “Do the people think he is in his tent?”
My illusion nodded. Just as my illusion began to open her mouth to speak again, there came an unexpected roar down below. We both turned our heads in the direction, alarmed. A moment later, a raven flew to Remington and stopped on his outstretched arm for a brief second before flying away again.
“Calder’s army is launching a full-on attack,” Remington announced. He hesitated, but very quickly recovered and decided, “You stay here. I will be right back.”
At this time, I teleported from the tent to my illusion, filling the trick on the eye with my real body.
“Wait,” I said to him, as if just having thought of something.
To suspend all possible suspicions, I took the amulet off and gave it to him. An illusion could not hold objects, but a real person could. “It’s not much, but please take it for protection.”
Remington took the amulet and wore it. He was about to speak again when the sound of explosions could be heard. Then, he stared at the scene of red for a minute before turning back to me again. Stepping forward, he now stood only one breath away.
Did he realize I had cursed the amulet?
But he placed his hand on my head, gently. Then, without another word, Remington leaped into the air and disappeared into the night.